I am a Feminist … shhhh!!!

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March 17, 2015 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu

I am a feminist. I have never denied that and I don’t think I ever will. I can’t explain it exactly, but I believe that my environment forced me to become one. It was a matter of self-preservation.

Whenever I have a conversation with Nigerian guys and dare (gasp) to express an independent opinion, I am looked at like some kind of aberration. This is not limited to just Nigerian guys. To a lesser extent, Nigerian women look at me with a mix of pity and disdain, debating whether to revoke my “womanhood” card.

It gets tiresome having the same conversation over and over again, but just today, I found myself in this old dance of explaining myself yet again. Kehinde* (not his name, obviously) delights in snidely remarking that my feminism is somewhat of a flaw. He often reminds me that he is a traditionalist and I take great pleasure in flashing my feminist beliefs in his face. We do this dance where he tries to explain to me why we must adhere to our culture/traditions and I remind him that we were not made for culture; culture was made for us. The fact that it worked for our ancestors does not mean it is going to work for us in this century. We realized that when we saw the barbarity in killing twins. Those people it worked for are long dead and we are under no obligation to continue to live by their edicts. This is always how it starts before we both agree to disagree.

One question that keeps coming up though is why I am a feminist. That is a very easy question to answer because I have never seen a place that needed feminism more than Nigeria does. The moment I started to be conscious of my being was the moment I realized the injustice that is womanhood in Nigeria. This is why I am a feminist. Some people may still be confused at this point, so I will explain further by painting a series of scenarios for everyone.

If I am a thirty year old unmarried woman in Nigeria, everyone will look at me with pity/disappointment, but no one blinks an eyelid when the situation is reversed and it is a thirty year old man that is unmarried. Let’s say that I eventually get married, but my husband and I are not able to have children; everyone looking will automatically assume that it is my (the woman’s) fault. Rarely do people assume that the problem is with the man. Let’s say that I get married, go through nine months of discomfort and hours of labour to have children, but those children all happen to be girls; people will look at me with pity as if girls are not children. There may even be talk of getting a second wife for the man. Let’s say I get married, have female children, but all of a sudden I lose my husband, people will look at me with suspicion and I will be forced to undergo several dehumanizing trials to show that I did not kill my husband. I will have to sleep with the corpse, drink the water that was used to bathe the corpse, shave my hair (possibly with a blunt instrument so as to inflict maximum pain and injury), wear black for months, and perform a public cry. This is all to show that I am innocent of killing my husband, their precious son. Let’s say I get married, have female children, and lose my husband, but dare to smile at another man one year after the death of my husband, people will look at me with derision and conclude that I killed my husband in order to carry on with my lover. Let’s say that I get married, have female children, lose my husband, and smile at another man, my husband’s people will come to claim their son’s property. The fact that I worked with my husband to acquire those properties becomes null and the fact that I have children, their son’s children, becomes void.

The scenarios I just painted are but a tip of the iceberg. There are other little and big things that are often used to remind women of their inferiority in the Nigerian society. In an environment rife with that kind of inhumanity and injustice towards women, what woman in her right mind would not want to advocate for the liberation of her sex. So, the correct question is not “why am I a feminist,” but “why wouldn’t I be a feminist?” As humans, we are wired to survive and self-preserve, so surviving, for me, means casting off the shackles of patriarchal edicts.

I find that I am often explaining why I am a feminist, but I seldom get the chance to explain why I did not become a feminist:

  1. I did not become a feminist, so that I could rule men. I have absolutely ZERO interest in ruling anyone. I have a hard time ruling myself as it is to want to rule another grown adult.
  2. I did not become a feminist because I hate men. I love men. I love my dad. I love my brothers, cousins, nephews, etc. I can spend eternity describing in vivid details how much I love men, but that would not be enough time. I LOVE MEN.
  3. I did not become a feminist because I am a bra burning, man hating lesbian. I love the support my bras give me, so I have not burnt any of them yet. I am not a lesbian. In case of any confusion, refer back to number two above. Enough said.
  4. I did not become a feminist because I want to turn my husband into a houseboy. Again, I have absolutely no interest in turning an adult into my houseboy.

I have come to realize that once some people hear the word “feminist,” they immediately draw a mental image of a group of man-hating, phallo-envying extremists. They tend to believe that any woman who is a feminist is either trying to become a man or is hell-bent on emasculating and dominating all the men in her life. As a result of all these negative connotations that are attached to feminism, some men tend to out-rightly dismiss it without trying to understand it and some women tend to abhor it because they want to retain their femininity and “womanhood card.” In addition, detractors of feminism often question why women (feminists) demand to control their own lives and bodies. This is not merely a matter of purposely seeking out trouble or creating oppression where there is none. It is a matter of demanding that women not be treated as mindless objects that are meant to be controlled. Feminism seeks to not only point out instances of dehumanization, but to create an environment where people recognize and condemn the dehumanization of men and women.

People need to understand that feminism is not about frivolous things. It is not even about the emasculation of men. It is about the well-being and survival of a large segment of the population. Like all organized institutions, feminism has its share of extremists that give the rest of us a bad name. For example, members of Boko Haram in Nigeria give Muslims everywhere a bad name and the members of Westboro Baptist Church in the United States of America give Christians everywhere a bad name. Our duty is not to condemn all these institutions as a result of the few bad apples in their midst. We should, therefore, not condemn feminism because of what people perceive it to be. We should focus on the core principle of feminism, which is the equality, well-being, and advancement of everyone [man and woman]. When a woman or man says to me, “I am not a feminist,” I am always heartbroken because I believe that our society is too broken for everyone of us to not be a feminist.

I will end by saying that I am a card carrying, man and woman loving, feminist. It is a thing I am proud of because of all the achievements and successes we have had so far. Feminism is not perfect. It has its issues which are constantly being addressed, but it also has its wonderful merits.

P.S: I understand that there is a very tiny minority of Nigerians that do not fall into the categories I have described above. These men and women, like me, are trying to make our country a great one for women. I have generalized because the overwhelming majority is so patriarchal/conservative that it sometimes seems like the majority’s voice is drowning out that of the minority.

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12 thoughts on “I am a Feminist … shhhh!!!

  1. Obisco1 says:

    You have dissected this precisely; hit the nail smack on the head!
    I read an article where Chimamanda debunked some of our so-called cultural practices. One of which struck me was that pre-Christianity/colonialism, children bore their mother’s names i.e in a polygamous home where there might be more than one, say, Adaku…each Adaku will be known as the child of the particular wife. So Adaku born by say, Mgbafo, will be Adaku Nwa-Mgbafor.
    So some of these so-called patriarchal practices are not even native to us and even if they are, culture evolves to benefit its people, not the other way round.

    Well done my dear, you have a gift of getting to the crux of the matter!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kachi says:

    Was talking to a friend in class the other day, a girl, during the discussion she goes, ‘Kachi, I think you are a feminist, I don’t like feminist guys. anybody that supports feminism is not normal, why would anyone be a feminist’ I couldn’t argue, I couldn’t educate her, I just stood there, speechless. Her ignorant self couldn’t understand, that she can stay in CLASS and STUDY was due to the level of progress feminism has made.

    To a debatable extent, I can understand why men won’t want to identify with feminism (emasculating-I am a man I must be in control bullshit) But women, especially ‘educated’ ones who don’t fly the feminist flag to the patriarchal heavens are insane. Everybody should be a feminist. Everybody. if I became a lecturer, I would properly educate my students on the need to be feminist because Nigeria needs it. When I become a parent, I will teach my children the importantance of being a feminist. I educate the ones around me (tedious job) every time of the need to be a feminist. Shove it in people’s face why everyone should be a feminist. Cos visibility is important if change has to be made.

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    • Exactly! There is nothing I hate more than when people abdicate their responsibility to their fellow men/women and society by claiming, “I hate labels, so I don’t really see myself as a feminist.” Puh-leeeez.

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  3. Kachi says:

    Lol.

    Please I need links to really good articles on feminism. Convincing and enlightening articles. If you have any please direct me to them.

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  4. Very good write up :-). I read Chimamanda’s piece on why we should all be feminists. Really good read.

    I think people should be free to identify with whatever movements aligns with their ideals and values. I personally don’t think of myself as a feminist. I will fight for justice for women, men, children etc. But I don’t particularly care to put that in a specific box or bear a specific label. But that is just me.

    All the things you’ve described are issues that every human being should speak up against, feminist or not. We should care about the quality of life of people around us. Women particularly have received less than fair treatment in Nigeria and other parts of the world. I think it is great that feminism fights for the rights of these ones. We all should fight for them. I proudly join that fight as a human being.

    As far as the negative perceptions about feminism. Part of it comes from the different strands and philosophies that exists within the movement. The recent rhetoric around feminism has tried to reclaim the narrative and portray it in a positive light. That is a good thing. I think it is great that more people are embracing the idea that we can and should speak up and fight for the rights of women and create opportunities for them to thrive. Go feminism!

    As a general comment (and not in relation to what i have read in this post). Feminism is the new cool, and i am seeing a trend in which people who don’t wish to be formally identified as feminists get berated, and in some cases bullied. I find that interesting. Some people do the work, but just don’t care to be labeled. That to me is fine. To others, not so much.

    I personally don’t care for labels, so no, I don’t identify as a feminist. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the movement or lack feminist ideals. I just feel most comfortable without the label.

    Always great to peep into the mind of #SpeakNoEvil. Your brain is working.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have found that even when I don’t want to label myself as something, people still want to place me in a category. Now, I have no problem with that unless people use that category as an insult to me. When I was much younger (early-mid teens), my uncle told me I would not be able to marry an African man because of my “feminist” tendencies. I don’t mind when people don’t want to identify with labels, but still fight for the rights of everyone because my feminism allows for that. However, I become a militant feminist when people “advice” me to “forget that feminist talk jaare because I am just going through a phase.” Say what? 😉

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      • “Now, I have no problem with that unless people use that category as an insult to me.”

        Lolol. Ain’t that the truth. I think people will always try to put you in some kind of category because it helps them make sense of the world around them. Whether these categories captures reality is a different story entirely…lol.

        As far as people telling you to forget feminism, that is just their own bias and fear speaking. I tend to ignore these kinds of people, and I hope you do too.

        As far as marriage goes, the ultimate goal is to be with someone who understands and loves you in all your feminist glory…lol. Everyone else can take a backseat.

        I have decided to live my life in a way that agrees with my conscience. It includes a host of ideals garnered from various movements (including feminism). For now, the only labels I wear proudly are that of my faith, and my little tribe in the backwoods of Kogi State. Anything else is asking for too much…lol.Keeping it short and simple (KISS).

        Keep staying true to yourself. That to me is the central message of this post. Cheers!

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  5. Chimamanda did Nigerian feminists a great service. Just a decade ago, there were very very few Nigerian women willing to declare themselves feminist. Just looking at the comment section of Bella Naija, I remember when it first started (maybe 8-10 years ago) articles about women’s rights issues would get responses like “oo you people have come again” with a hundred likes. Now, let a man write something about how women should submit and the commenters will rake him over the coals. That is a good thing.

    Still, I’m skeptical about how this increased acceptance of feminism translates into the lived reality of modern Nigerian life. Not being married, I wonder if men are doing more housework or taking care of the kids. I wonder if the influence of inlaws (especially mother-in-laws) has waned in new couples’ lives. My observation is that Nigerian wives are still pressured to reproduce quickly and that husbands are given leeway to cheat. So I’m not sure if the larger space for feminism online and in urban pop culture has created actual change.

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    • You make some great points. I choose to see it as the conversation just starting. People are now more likely to encourage a battered wife to leave instead of asking her what she did to provoke the attack or just to just simply endure. Our society is not ideal yet, but I am optimist that with the conversation going in the direction it is, change will surely come one day. My consolation is that even if I don’t enjoy “full equality,” my daughter(s) should not have to be burdened by the weight of tradition and societal expectations of women.

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  6. Every1 shd be feminist! I don’t know how to say it again.

    Like

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The Author

My name is Kambili M.A Chimalu. This is a space where I share my thoughts, from the highly controversial to the mundane. I would love nothing more than to share this space with people who will motivate me to work towards a better tomorrow, so I welcome anyone that wants to share this space with me.

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